I never believed in Santa.
It wasn't a big thing in my family. I was raised in a religious household, and Santa was just something that other people "did." It was a fun thing to do around the holidays, there wasn't much reason to it.
I couldn't really tell you when I stopped believing in Christianity. Middle school, I imagine. Once I was no longer forced to go to church on Sunday, I stopped going. It wasn't a big existential moment for me. Church was boring and unrelatable. I believed in God when there wasn't an alternative for me to believe in, which I think means that on some level I didn't really believe it, ultimately. I was just a kid, I didn't have a reason to question those kinds of things. When I eventually came to the conclusion that God (as I was taught) wasn't real, I wasn't shaken by it. I had no crisis. I didn't believe that Christianity as a whole, that my parents and teachers lied to me. You can't be lying if you believe it's true. They were incorrect. Religion was just something that they did.
In my mind, Jesus became their version of Santa. It was a belief they held that wasn't actually true. In a few years, I'd apply this logic to everything I'd ever heard about drugs. I heard that you could die by trying them once. I heard that your brain would be irreparably damaged, that they'd make you stupid. I heard about side effects and horror stories.
I tried them because everyone had been wrong about Santa. It's not someone's fault that their beliefs turn out to be untrue. Belief aren't formulated to be validated, they are formed to give validation. What I had heard about drugs turned out to be untrue, which is unfortunate because with real and honest education about what they do and the legitimate dangers they may possess we might have a better relationship with them as a society, we can understand both their merit and their detriments. Drugs are people too, they're flawed and complicated and can be wholly wonderful.
That statement is something I believe. It bears no factual truth, but personally, it holds a great deal of meaning. I see a lot of people who tend to align with my ways of thinking that think education is the answer. If people only knew they were wrong, they would change their minds. Often, when our belief is something that someone else believes is untrue, we have an innate desire to change their minds. For some, this seems as simple as highlighting facts that someone that disagrees with you simply must not know.
Do you remember when Pluto got demoted? Scientific discovery dethroned a commonly held belief. Pluto moved onto the same plane as Jesus, Santa, Drugs ... Beliefs are our saviors, not because they are actively doing anything for us, but so much that our belief in them preserves our sense of who we are. No one wants that taken away, so of course we will fight anyone who challenges our saviors.
Being robbed of your beliefs is emotionally traumatizing. It challenges who you are on a fundamental level. I'm realizing this come up a lot, but when talking to someone about an issue that you both feel strongly about and both feel like you're right about, you're effectively challenging the way that they exist. Maybe not in the physical sense, but certainly on an emotional level.
Think about the basic language for that: That's what you believe? Well, You are wrong.
You. The creature you exist as.
Are, your very simple act of being,
Wrong, as in the what makes you an individual isn't good; you exist against the the nature of how things should be.
I've written about this twice now in different contexts, but I'm still searching to pull together the meaning. Essentially, these are my beliefs on beliefs, but I don't fully have any understanding of them. I'm still looking for something. There is something about holding things sacred, about things we can't let go of, that I don't fully grasp yet.
It's hard not to talk about belief and belief systems without mentioning cognitive bias. I find this term troubling, but mostly for how clinical it sounds; it's correct, but it's hard to accept that the very nature of having beliefs can be attributed to the way our brain sort of "malfunctions" to sort information in our favor. If it were a malfunction, I don't think it would have survived evolutionary adaptation this long. Do we need to believe in order survive? Can we shed that for pure, provable rationality? I don't know, but we innately seem to believe, or find things to believe in. Beliefs are our understanding of how the world works. That helps us situate ourselves as an individual within any greater context.
Knowledge in itself bears no emotional power. Our beliefs and our feelings influence us far beyond logic. The trick is not to be frightened of the fact that human software is emotional. We just need to learn how it works. What we really need is the ability to doubt safely. We need to be able to question ourselves and be questioned without feeling that we're being attacked. If we can do that, then ideally we've learned how to do the same thing to other people.
Doubt shouldn't be used to dismantle someone's beliefs, it should be made to understand them. Knowing something isn't validating unless it validates an already held belief. Just because you know something doesn't mean you understand it, and we crave understanding more than anything. Being understood helps us understand who we are. It's that kind of social catch-22 that makes it difficult to see eye to eye with someone who doesn't believe (or believe in) you.
Somewhere along the way, we have missed something. We have been able to form solid arguments against people we disagree with, we can be well spoken in our affirmations. Technology has allowed us to speak out, very clearly about what we believe, but with no real contact with our opposition, no validity to our opponents. We run dangerously close to assuming anyone who holds a different belief is only a straw man.
I'm writing this as a preface to another piece, one that's been very difficult for me to write, but I hope will be up soon. I want to pose a question to you the question I have been working on myself. What if they're right? "They" seem to be the shadowy, vague straw men; the enemy to your opinion, but they're real people with real lives that came to these conclusions for a reason. What if the beliefs that you hold turn out to be the ones that are historically recorded as foolish? What does it mean to live in the opposite world, how do you understand that, and what does that mean about you as a person, your heritage, your values? What does that mean about life in general?
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because I've been thinking a lot about how people change their minds (isn't that a fascinating phrase?) Our beliefs and our emotions are the most sacred things we have, and there is such a thing as the sacred, even if the reality of the sacred boils down to drugs and Santa Claus. I just don't know what that means for the rest of us.
These articles focus more on psychology or how individuals function in a society. They're about as well thought out as anything else on the internet, and there's probably typos.